Quick Drive: 2013 Nissan Versa Sedan 1.6 SL

Sections: Car Audio, Chassis, Powertrain

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The 2013 Nissan Versa (press image)

This is not our courtesy car. It’s a press image. Just letting you know. (Photo courtesy Nissan North America.)

It was my duty to drop off my wife’s Nissan cube at the dealer for a minor warranty repair this weekend. The dealer gave us a 2013 Nissan Versa Sedan 1.6 SL courtesy car fresh off the delivery truck. Let’s do this.

There’s a lot to like about the Versa. It’s relatively space-efficient, like our cube, albeit the body is much more conventional. There’s actually more rear-seat legroom in the tiny Versa Sedan than there is in the hot midsize Lexus GS F-SPORT I’ve been testing all week. Also: The Versa Sedan is cheap. Very cheap. The SL trim is at the top of the Versa range, and yet our courtesy car rang in at well under $18,000.

For mid-$17,000 money, you got Nissan’s standard factory stereo with four speakers, upgraded cloth seats, keyless door locks, power windows with driver’s one-touch down, 15-inch alloy wheels, and Nissan’s Xtronic CVT. The dealer installed carpet floor mats, and not much else that I could see.

2013 Nissan Versa Interior (press photo)

Our Versa courtesy car had no leather-wrapped steering wheel, something we missed in the short time our cube was in the shop. (Photo courtesy Nissan North America.)

Notably absent from the Versa that is notably not absent in cubes of roughly the same price: leather-wrapped steering wheel. It seems like a small thing, but in terms of how nice the interior feels, it makes a pretty big difference. The Versa’s rubberized plastic wheel rim felt thinner than our cube’s, and the material felt kind of cheap. I’d likely slap an aftermarket leather cover on it if I owned this particular Versa, both as a means to make the wheel feel more pleasing in day-to-day driving and to save the plastic from the inevitable degradation it will face from callous, uncaring Tennessee summers.

Also notably absent in the Versa: grab handles. There were none. Forget hanging your sportcoat on the driver’s side rear seat grab handle on the way to that business meeting– you’ll have to settle for spreading it out on the roomy back seat or in the surprisingly cavernous trunk.

Driving the Versa Sedan was not without its pleasures. It’s peppy as all get-out. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine makes just 109 horsepower (at 6,000 RPM) and 107 ft-lbs of torque (at 4,400 RPM), but the car will lurch from stoplights with almost surprising quickness. Thanks are due to the CVT’s tuning and the car’s light weight of just under 2,500 lbs, no doubt.

On the highway, the Versa Sedan is a game of momentum preservation. It will move along at a decent clip and has no problem breaking speed limits in most any part of the country, but passing maneuvers are best performed in a slingshot manner, as there’s just not a lot of steam left at higher velocities. I was able to build speed coming up behind a slow-moving truck on a two-lane highway on my way home from the dealership and, seeing the path was clear in the oncoming lane, safely complete a pass with little drama. I would not have wanted to try this move had the opportunity caught me flat-footed. If I hadn’t known the road and knew the long section of “dotted line” was coming up, I probably wouldn’t have attempted the pass.

Techwise, the Versa Sedan leaves me cold. Its optional “Fine Vision” gauges (Nissan’s term, not mine) seem pretty normal, and the sound quality coming from the four-speaker stereo system was not great. In fact, it was pretty muddy. Otherwise, there wasn’t much tech on-board. There was Bluetooth phone conectivity for hands-free calling and conversing, though I didn’t get to try it since we only had the car about 22 hours total. If it works the same as that system in our cube, it should be good for its intended purpose.

The trunk of the 2013 Nissan Versa Sedan (press photo)

The trunk of the 2013 Nissan Versa Sedan is surprisingly large for the car’s small exterior size. If you buy the SL, you get rear seats that lay down for even more cargo-carrying capacity, and you get a remote trunk release. Buyers of the base S will have to stick to carrying smaller items, and they’ll have to access the trunk using their key every time– the S doesn’t get lay-down rear seats or remote trunk release. (Photo courtesy Nissan North America.)

The quality of the interior was hit-and-miss. The seats felt generally good. Side bolsters on the front seats were surprisingly adept at holding me in place during some, shall we say, spirited maneuvers. But then there was the cheap-feeling steering wheel, thin carpeting on both the floor and the mats, very cardboard-like roof paneling, and the “Oh-My-God-I-Must-Be-An-Autojournalist” sea of hard plastics everywhere you’re likely to touch. Finally, the map lights didn’t even have bezels– they were mounted flush. While that’s okay and it actually keeps them out of the way a bit more than usual, it looked sorta cheap.

The thing to remember is, again, the Versa is a cheap car. Though our SL courtesy car was a range-topping example fitted with options including a remote trunk release (!), plenty of lesser Versas at our dealer were priced in the $14,000 range. For that price, a person could do a lot worse by buying a used car with an unknown history. And if you’re a true bargain-basement kind of guy like me, the base Versa Sedan S comes with a proper five-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, and…not much else. I’d still consider that model for a knockaround commuter car, even though our short time in the SL left me somewhat cold. It’s hard to beat $12,000 for a brand new car, and an optionless example like the S is practically a blank canvas waiting for me to install an awesome aftermarket head unit and speakers.

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